Franco-Spanish unionism talks Hitler, Franco and war

Manuel Valls – for his own good

Albert Rivera and Inés Arrimadas, the shiny young Hispano-Catalan leaders of Spain’s not really very centrist unionist/nationalist party, Ciudadanos, have finally signed a star to lead their party’s assault on Barcelona Council. Or have they? Their candidate might be former French prime minister, Manuel Valls, who was born by accident in Horta (Barcelona) to emigré Catalan painter, Xavier Valls, and an Italo-Swiss when there on holiday in 1962. Manuel Valls has been unemployed since his humiliating defeat by Benoît Hamon in the Parti Socialiste (PS) presidential primary at the beginning of 2017. Valls barely achieved 40% of the vote in the run-off and there was immediately talk that he should leave the PS. When he threw his support behind independent, post left-right dichotomy, post-nationalist, neo-conservative presidential candidate, Emmanuel Macron, to help build a majority to defeat the Front National’s xenophobic French nationalist candidate, Marine Le Pen, it was for the greater good of France. It was consequently quite surprising to see him play the islamophobia card last November, sounding like just another member of the Le Pen family. All that post-something posturing is as fake as fake can be. It is Ciudadanos to a tee.

The possibility of Valls becoming a Spanish unionist mayoral candidate for the Catalan capital sent the Spanish unionist and nationalist media into apparent paroxysms of delight. Operation Manuel Valls La operación Manuel Valls in far-right Libertad Digital unwittingly (with Libertad Digital it’s always unwittingly) sums up the underlying feeling best. Good signing, wrong job. (Note the hate-filled tone of the rhetoric in such Spanish publications if you follow the link, and understand Spanish of course.) Catalan pro-independence parties, currently considering holding primaries to elect a unitary candidate, will be quietly hoping Ciudadanos do eventually decide to go with Valls. Who ever heard of a foreign politician running for the mayorship of a city of global importance on the basis of his accidental birthplace, his career having stalled at home? Is it a present from a young neo-liberal hardliner with immense power, Emmanuel Macron, to his young counterpart and pretender to the presidency of Spain, Albert Rivera.

It does all seem a little forced, desperate even. For the moment, Valls is here, this time for the greater good of Spain, and Europe. Valls for Victory, Valls the Nazi Slayer. Ciudadanos’ Spanish nationalist leader, Albert Rivera, has come a long way with his team of robotic mediocrities, has-beens, fascist academics; his defectors from right, far-right and socialist parties. Despite being founded by ‘intellectuals’ as far back as 2006, Ciudadanos has only just celebrated its first annual party conference in the past week. Twelve years it’s taken. I imagine it costs to attend, just as it costs to be a candidate on some Ciudadanos’ candidate lists, and the higher up the list you are, the more it costs. It should also be remembered that their coffers have swollen in recent times, though most sources of Ciudadanos’ financing have been secrets closely guarded by their vague accounts, which are repeatedly rejected by the Senate.

Like an internationally bankrolled and newly successful football club hoping to win the league and make the step up to European football, the Ciudadanos National Directorate has announced a raft of new signings, some of which are international. Such announcements are like buckets of ice-cold water for the mediocre in the current dressing room, which is almost all of them. ‘I hope you understand and understand [sic] that to govern it is important for good people to join our lists, to incorporate talent, to open the doors to people from outside. Let’s not be afraid of talent and accept mediocrity. The important thing is to win. And if we have to change candidates, they will be changed,’ Rivera told the paltry hundred delegates invited to El Escorial for this first orange bunfight. Rivera is telling them that, although many of them might now have no place in the team, no dissent will be tolerated. Ciudadanos 4.0. – with each invisible cash injection, another makeover. Valls might yet discover that the Ciudadanos’ much trumpeted diversity narrative only extends to Catalans of Spanish origin and Ciudadanos’ beloved ‘chewing gum’ can’t be stretched to support a Franco-Catalan candidate.

Valls has actually been sticking his oar into the Catalan waves for a while, testing the water. Last Thursday’s colloquy starring Manuel Valls and PSOE General Secretary (1974-97) and prime minister of Spain (1982-96), Felipe González, was an attempt to introduce Valls to the Spaniverse and increase his credibility. It was also a test of whether Valls had learnt his Spanish lines properly. González, aghast at the German’s ‘arrogance’ in releasing Puigdemont on bail and ‘giving lessons in democracy’ to Spain, argued: ‘Hitler was victorious in 1932 with minority support, and his rebellion was successful. Franco’s coup d’état in 1936 triumphed. But he never went on trial for rebellion because he won.’ The clearly fallacious Puigdemont=Hitler/Franco analogy is not new and gains no validity with repetition. It is, nevertheless, one of the masts of the unionist boat. The problem with the narrative is that, to the common European, Aznar and Rajoy, Macron and Valls, González and Sánchez, Rivera and Arrimadas all look madder and more Hitlerian or Francoist than Mas and Puigdemont ever have.

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Uncivil ‘Catalan’ society

The script is the same for all Spanish unionists: the Partido Popular (PP), Ciudadanos (Cs), the Partido Socialista Obrero Español (PSOE), Societat Civil Catalana (SCC), the far-right, the Spanish media, the French connection, and the international brigade. It’s a concerted effort, and its rhetoric is simple and easily learnt. This was most recently apparent at the SCC rally on 18 March. On a day when exiled francophones, Carles Puigdemont and Anna Gabriel, were attending a series of events dealing with the Catalan question in Switzerland, the Franco-Spanish ex-prime minister of France, Manuel Valls, was keynote speaker at the sparsely attended demonstration in front of the Estació de França. SCC demos have the highest concentrations of not just catalanophobes but also islamophobes you’ll find on the streets of Catalonia. Valls must have felt right at home. As much of Spain boiled with indignation and hundreds of the thousands of people demonstrated against the government on a variety of issues – against Spanish government pension policy, in defence of the Catalan school model, against the wall that will divide Murcia – SCC marched for Spanish unity.

Considering the glorious sunny day, last month’s unionist crowd must have been a severe disappointment to the organisers, especially after having been allowed to give a press conference from the Moncloa only a month earlier. Spanish prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, had simultaneously refused to meet the Speaker of the Catalan parliament, Roger Torrent. What a coup that had been for SCC president, José Rusiñol, and what an insult to the legitimate Catalan institutions, always Rajoy’s intention. Rusiñol is currently concluding his own European tour spreading the Spanish unionist word in northern Europe. You probably haven’t heard about it.

Even the all-star line-up of Manuel Valls, Rosa María Sardà, Jordi Cañas and Carlos Jiménez Villarejo wasn’t enough to draw the masses. Admittedly, it was a step down from the line-up they’d managed to put together just a week after the 1 October referendum during which the Spanish Civil Guard and National Police had injured more than a thousand people charging at voters – Nobel prize-winner, Mario Vargas Llosa, Josep Borrell and Carlos Jiménez Villarejo (again) – but still, Valls is a former prime minister of a frontline European power, although never a candidate for the presidency.

As the failed socialist politician had cast around for a cause last year, he remembered his roots, and made a beeline for Barcelona to participate, not in the failed Partit Socialista de Catalunya (PSC) campaign, but in the also unsuccessful Ciudadanos and PP campaigns to take the Generalitat. He couldn’t just sit there in Paris doing nothing. He’d had to come then, and now he was back, screaming that the ‘separatist process’ had failed, and that the break-up of Spain would lead to the break-up of Europe, that Spain was a ‘great democracy’ and 5,317 overjoyed Spanish nationalists and unionists cheered.

His ruddy face looked like it was going to explode, as he attempted to whip up the crowd with the same script and brio Vargas Llosa had used last October, within days of the national beating. In Catalan, he claimed that he’d ‘shed tears’ on hearing the whistles and boos directed at King Felipe VI during the massive demonstration of solidarity for the victims of last August’s terror attacks, FC Barcelona’s appearance in the King’s Cup Final, only this time the whistlers were filmed and identified for further investigation. Tears shed for monarchs are all the rage on the republican left in Spain too. Valls made no mention of the oblique role of the Spanish state in those attacks, focusing on his preference for an ‘open Catalonia’ over a ‘withdrawn, racist and separatist culture’. He gave no examples of this mythologised vision of the region and climaxed in bellicose terms, promising to stand with the Spanish nationalists and unionists in their ‘battle’. According to the script, ‘changing the borders of Europe is war!’

Back in October, SCC had had its greatest moment. During the fallout from the 1 October referendum they  drew their largest crowd ever – 250,000-1 million people depending on who you believe. Vargas Llosa dubbed independentists ‘racist fanatics’ whose ‘nationalist passion’ had caused more havoc in history than any other factor, whose ‘secular religion was inherited from the worst romanticism.’ He postulated that ‘nationalism has filled the history of Europe, the world, and Spain with wars, blood and corpses,’ without specifying which nationalisms exactly. The generalisation of this assertion should make everyone uncomfortable, as should its menacing tone. Catalan PSOE baron Borrell had followed the thread. ‘What are national borders? Borders are the scars that history has left on the skin of the earth, carved in blood and fire.’ It’s Juncker’s ‘all nationalisms are poison’ line, that curiously fails to recognise the existence of Spanish nationalism. No mention of war was made in the Scottish referendum campaign, or even in the Brexit campaign, and that had a really hateful nationalistic edge to it at times.

Valls skipped Vargas Llosa’s poetry, but maintained the hysterical narrative. His steady Catalan was in stark contrast to the linguistic chaos of fellow ‘socialist’, Sardà. She’d obviously written her rambling speech in Catalan, but as the breeze scattered her notes and she and the organisers worried about how well her audience was following her, she improvised translations and explanations, often making multiple switches between tongues in the same sentence. She seemed disconcerted and everyone wondered what she and fellow Republicans and Socialists were doing in this company.

The head of the demonstration

From left to right the banner-holding head of the demonstration was formed by: Andrea Levy (PP), Xavier García Albiol (PPC leader); Miriam Tey de Salvador (SCC vice-president); Enric Millo (PP Spanish government’s delegate in Catalonia); Dolors Montserrat (PP Minister of Health, Social Services and Equality in Spanish government); José Rusiñol (SCC president); Manuel Valls (former prime minister of France); Albert Rivera (Cs national leader in Spain); José María Espejo-Saavedra (Cs MP in Catalan parliament); Mariano Gomà (SCC president); Rosa Maria Sardà (Catalan entertainer, PSC); Miquel Iceta (PSC leader); Núria Marín (PSC, L’Hospitalet, Catalonia’s second city); Carlos Ruíz (PSC); Míriam Tey (SCC vice-president).

I couldn’t put together a list of public figures that less represents Catalan civil society than this one. My list would include quite a lot of civil and political leaders currently imprisoned pre-trial, in exile or under threat of prosecution for something or other. I could think of hundreds, perhaps thousands more who would represent the people of Catalonia better than the group behind the banner.

The hijacking of the untranslatable Catalan concept of ‘seny’ alongside the curious SCC logo, the squeeze of Spanish nationalist toothpaste (Signal is the brand that comes to mind, coincidentally the name of a Wehrmacht propaganda publication) or a patriotic turd. Before anyone gets their knickers in a twist, I don’t think it means anything, it’s just one of those connections our minds make that amuse us. The connections between SCC and the Spanish far-right are, however, a matter of fact.

The balance of the front row is heavily PP; PP to the SCC president’s right and a mix of Ciudadanos, SCC and PSC to his left. The reduced presence of Ciudadanos must have been due to the absence of an election campaign. Rivera put on a brave face and repeated a few phrases from the unionist script about independendists misleading the people. And where was Ciudadanos leader in Catalonia, Inés Arrimadas? Perhaps the turnout had been severely reduced by the limited numbers bussed in from Spain. On 8 October, over 100 coaches had hurried to the Catalan capital. Perhaps SCC’s ongoing attempt to keep their more obviously Fascist and Nazi element out of the way had an effect this time. You can’t have all those telltale flags, haircuts, tattoos, sunglasses and shirts betraying links with the far-right; there were few of those ‘incidents’ and stiff-armed salutes so characteristic of previous demonstrations. There was, of course, the carefully curated balance of flags: in descending order of numbers: 1. Spain; 2= the Catalan senyera, Europe; 4. Tabarnia. The less well curated homemade banners in Catalan were typically full of mistakes, suggesting more Catalan school is needed, not less.

The previous day, SCC had held a parallel demonstration in Madrid. It was supposed to be a double whammy in Spain’s two largest cities, but SCC’s assault on the capital mustered a meagre 100 demonstrators, who went home early due to the rain. Incredibly, the footage of the demonstration can still be found on SCC’s Youtube channel. It’s the video with the test card as a thumbnail. Over an hour of empty stage in inclement weather with never more than a handful of demonstrators visible at any one time and mainly obscured by someone’s head. You’ll struggle to count more than six people at once. It’s a revealing document.

You might ask why anyone would watch such a spectacle when even the most die-hard Spanish unionist would struggle through some of the speeches at SCC events, and it’s because everyone should be interested in hearing the unionist argument. The problem is that SCC don’t represent reasonable unionism. Nor do the PP or Ciudadanos. Nobody knows what happened to PSC, or PSOE for that matter. The identity crisis of the traditional left in Spain, the Republicans who are comfortable with constitutional monarchy, the neo-liberal ‘socialists’. The problem is that SCC has a far-right heart and is the voice of Francoist continuism in Catalonia. It was invented as an anti-ANC civil organisation in 2014 like Ciudadanos was invented as the anti-Catalanist political party in 2006. Neither has anything to do with Catalan civil society. Both are bankrolled from Spanish power and big business based in Madrid. Neither is a grassroots movement and both were concocted in the laboratory.

SCC demonstrations should be as transversal as last week’s in Barcelona in favour of freedom and democracy, which brought 957 coaches from around Catalonia and other regions of the Spanish State. Not all secessionist Catalans are comfortable with the amount of flag-waving at their rallies and anti-Spanish racism is minimal. SCC rallies are catalanophic affairs without exception. I’d like to think that many unionists are uncomfortable with the origins and links of SCC. Perhaps that was another reason for so many to have stayed away on March 17-18 in Madrid and Barcelona.

The seductive simplicity of the narrative, initially so successful in the media-led resurgence in Spanish nationalism, has an expiry date. Surely, only the most caverniculous unionist could keep up the lie forever. Secessionist Catalans are quite obviously not genocidal supremacist Nazis doing, or intending to do the same to first language Spanish speakers in Catalonia as Hitler did to the Jews, the gypsies, homosexuals, people with handicaps, etc. in Nazi Germany. You’d have to live in a particularly hermetic Spanish nationalist bubble or a state of complete self-delusion to believe such obviously inflammatory rhetoric when your own experience cannot but be another. You’d think reality would be a more powerful antidote to such manipulation.

It’s important to understand that the person who chants ‘Artur Mas, to the gas chamber’ or ‘Puigdemont, to prison’ are the self-same people that equate both Catalan leaders with Hitler or Franco. It’s messed up but it’s the way it is. It’s the simple difference between secessionism and separatism, and it’s the big unionist lie. The violence, the potential for violence, the risk of war, war! We know where the violence is coming from and the places that war could come from and it’s the same places it ever did, mentioning no names.

Catalan independentists are still pacifists, despite anger at the endless torrent of injustice flowing from Madrid. The attempt by the State to demonstrate violence in the pro-independence movement has failed miserably. The Catalans have killed no one and have no army. They don’t even have their own police force anymore. On the other hand, since 1990, 88 people have been killed in Spain as a result of far-right hate crimes. To see SCC grow out of far-right groups, flirt with them for a while, then try to sideline them when some true headliners can be signed up is nauseating. Ciudadanos have gone through a similar process of purification since their inception. It’s a shame because the far-right really appreciate a bit of bellicose rhetoric, it’s tailormade for them, especially if it conjures up visions of the Catalans being psychologically and physically crushed again. The talk of violence, blood and death really gets them going. No, these secessionist Catalans aren’t the dangerous nationalists. That would be the Spanish brand still occupying the Moncloa with majorities in both Congress and the Senate a full 42 years after Franco died.

Changing borders is war

What does it all mean? Is the army en marche too? I don’t know if you’ve noticed but the coup already happened and it has left Spain once again in total control of Catalonia and its institutions, and the Spanish authorities are once again persecuting the Catalans. The paramilitary police control the streets and the army remains ready. Spain is involved in a war with its own people again. Everyone hopes and prays that Germany is not impressed. They know a dictatorship when they see one after all, and this Franco-Spanish axis looks ugly and dangerous. The EU has backed Rajoy unflinchingly and looks like becoming even more centralised if left to Juncker and Macron. The Spanish are desperately and interestedly pro-European at the moment, pro the Europe that it hopes and prays will do its bidding. So it’s union, union, union. ‘Break up Spain, break up Europe’ goes the threat. ‘Changing borders is war.’ So who is trying to start a war? All this talk of war threatens more repression and the justification will continue to be the wifebeater’s ‘you made me do it’.

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